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Lost With No Sense Of PRIDE: Bridging the Knowledge Gap In MMA

With the UFC on Fox event that took place on November 12th, the sport of Mixed Martial Arts has turned the corner and is heading into a new frontier. UFC president Dana White has the business acumen to push the global brand of the UFC and the sport of Mixed Martial Arts to heights not thought imaginable just a few short years ago. These are two undisputed facts that are beyond question. The major question is what type of growing pains will true MMA fans have to endure to see the sport reach its full potential?

Come along with me on a little adventure. A stroll down memory lane if you will. This story will begin like a lot of stories in modern martial arts across the globe and specifically here in America. I watched UFC 1 and was blown away by the skinny Brazilian guy who decimated his opponents by submission. I knew then that I had to learn some form of grappling arts. (Sound familiar yet?) Less than a year later I found myself sporting a wrestling singlet and shooting half nelsons until I could do them in my sleep. This, however, was not my motivation to train or compete in mixed martial arts. That motivation came roughly 4 years later in 1997. I can recall gathering around on a friend’s couch and waiting in anticipation for this new thing called the Pride Fighting Championships. My life was forever changed.

The Japanese promotion took what was being billed as human cock fighting here in the states and made it a regal event. It was less novelty and more class and finesse. There was something about the way that the competitors carried themselves in the early PFC days. The pageantry of the events is still unmatched in today’s combat arts. But most importantly to this journey that you and I are embarked upon were the Japanese fans. I had never seen a major sporting event where the fans were so knowledgeable, classy, respectful, and appreciative of the entertainment that they were receiving.

Looking back, I can remember the utter silence in the Tokyo Dome on that night in October of 1997. It was a silence that cannot be described in words. There were roughly 47,000 people in attendance that evening and all of them were on the edge of their seats. Amazingly though, when two of the combatants engaged in a clinch, not a single person booed. When there was a stale-mate in half-guard, the echo of disapproval did not rain down. Instead what happened was amazing. The crowd understood the subtle nuances of the fight game. It was as if they understood that they were coming to watch two highly skilled athletes compete in an athletic event of the highest nature and appreciated the combatants for the performance they were exhibiting. They actually cheered at the execution of small grappling techniques. How unfathomable is that in today’s MMA landscape where the loudest cheer of a fight is when the referee stands a fight back up from the grounded position?

As fight fans we need to become more educated. Dare I say, we need to be more like the Japanese fight fans. One of the greatest finishes to any MMA contest was the front kick to the face of Vitor Belfort by Anderson Silva. The crowd exploded when Belfort’s knees buckled and he collapsed to the canvas. What is lost on that moment is the chorus of boos that were filling the stadium just moments before. Anderson Silva is known to be a slow starter and a meticulous counter striker. To a knowledgeable fight fan it was only a matter of time before that spider struck his prey but the impatient fans in attendance wanted no part of that. Instead, they wanted the two combatants to fight the way the fans wanted, not the way that was intelligent for the fighters whose careers and safety was on the line. I was going to list more examples of this type of unappreciative behavior from American fight fans but I found that the number of incidents were too numerous to even begin to scratch the surface. Don’t take my word though, pay attention to the crowd reactions during “boring” parts of the next MMA event you are watching.

What we need to realize as fight fans is the fact that this is not the NFL, MLB or the NBA. When a quarterback of an NFL team throws an interception he will get a chance to make up for that mistake on the next possession for his team. If a linebacker misses a tackle he has a safety and a cornerback behind him to help corral the ball carrier and he will get a chance to redeem himself on the next down. If a pitcher gives up a hit he has fielders backing him up and he too will get a chance to make up for that pitch with the next batter. MMA fighters are not afforded these luxuries. If you make one error inside the cage or ring that could be the end of your stint in that particular promotion or even your career. One loss can lead to a fighter being cut and losing the livelihood that their family’s depend upon. Sure most of us would all love to see a Griffin vs. Bonnar style slugfest for every fight that takes place but these expectations are unreasonable.

Most professional fighters only get a few fights per year due to the amount of time that it takes to prepare for each contest. Because of this they have to make the very best of every opportunity that they are given. They do not get a 162 game season. They may only have one chance to shine. With that kind of pressure it is not always feasible to go balls to the wall, full bore, for your amusement. The next time you find yourself ready to boo because you feel as though the action isn’t living up to your expectations, slow down and put yourself in that fighter’s situation. How would you react if you were locked in a cage with a trained opponent and the only way that you were getting out is if one of you was unable to continue? Now let’s imagine that you may not receive another check for months if you make one very small miscalculation. How would you provide for your family? Now would you leave it all on the line and swing for the fences?

Our journey will come to a close with a memory of Pride 5 that took place at the Nagoya Rainbow Hall. Royler and Rickson Gracie put on a demonstration of Gracie Jiu-Jitsu. It was purely grappling technique. There were no spinning back-fists or flying knees but rather slow methodical jiu-jitsu technique. The adoring Japanese fans did not become restless, no, they were so silent you could literally hear the shutter clicks from the media cameras at ringside. I can’t help but think of the boos that would fill any given arena today if Dana White attempted the same exhibition. As fans let’s try to be more appreciative of these athletes and what they are doing and let’s try to educate ourselves on the techniques being employed so that we too can appreciate the subtle nuances of the various forms of Martial Arts that make up the sport now known as Mixed Martial Arts. Maybe that is too much to ask. Maybe I just miss Pride.

Chris Bowman

About the author: Chris “The Buzz-Saw”Bowman is a mixed martial arts competitor, school owner, and judge with over 15 years of combative experience.

He owns and operates Louisville Elite Combat in Louisville, KY. He is a black belt in the Japanese art of Bushi Jutsu Ryu and can be contacted at: bowman_combat@live.com

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